In this political year, books about Christian political duty keep coming; probably the most balanced is Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty (Ginosko Publishing, 2004). Authors Ken Connor and John Revell avoid a common error by showing that "the United States government is not the government of Judah, and our nation is not considered His chosen people . . . He did not establish Himself as our King in a functional theocracy." But they go on to emphasize, also rightly, an evangelical imperative: "The watching world needs to see through our actions that God is concerned about civil right and wrong . . . and He expects His people to reflect actively God's love and care through our words and through our actions."
Also useful during the campaign: While mediacrats continue to pretend neutrality, L. Brent Bozell's Weapons of Mass Distortion (Crown, 2004) ably brings the case against liberal media and predicts their meltdown. While Democratic candidates say they are as religious as their opponents, Ron Nash's The Religious Left (Academic Renewal Press, 2004) provides a useful critique of evangelical political liberals such as Tony Campolo, Ron Sider, and Jim Wallis. While Michael Moore calls President Bush a lazy nincompoop, Carolyn Thompson and James Ware show otherwise in The Leadership Genius of George W. Bush (Wiley, 2004).
With Iraq the foreign nation most mentioned on the campaign trail, those who have absorbed the perspective of The New York Times should also read Karl Zinsmeister's Dawn over Baghdad: How the U.S. Military Is Using Bullets and Ballots to Remake Iraq (Encounter, 2004). Mr. Zinsmeister's gripping book shows how our soldiers are trying to fight a humane war against terrorism. We still don't know whether that's just an American dream, but the attempt is honorable, and Dawn over Baghdad is a good book to give to those who equate all our soldiers with the deviants of Abu Ghraib. Similarly, Barbara J. Elliott's Street Saints: Renewing American Cities (Templeton Foundation Press, 2004) is perfect for someone who wonders why anyone should have faith in a White House faith-based initiative.
Books that implicitly present biblical truth can also be useful, even when authors are theologically imprecise. Paul Kuntz's The Ten Commandments in History: Mosaic Paradigms for a Well-Organized Society (Eerdman's, 2004) could be helpful for someone whose eyes glaze over at the thought that words over 3,000 years old are of more than antiquarian interest. Anne Hendershott's The Politics of Deviance (Encounter, 2002) could similarly be useful reading for Planned Parenthood contributors who think the road to happiness is paved with contraception for 12-year-olds. She ably portrays the problems of normalizing homosexuality, of allowing claims of "date rape" to go uncriticized, and of letting off the hook in other ways those who engage in dishonorable activities.
Thankfully, even amid a political campaign we still have pennant races. In Ninety Feet from Fame: Close Calls with Baseball Immortality (Carroll & Graf), Mike Robbins tells many intriguing stories of baseball "near-legends buried by circumstance, bad luck, and bad timing"-also known as providence. Robert Whiting's The Meaning of Ichiro (Warner Books, 2004) is a sequel to his wonderful book about Japanese baseball, You've Gotta Have Wa (1989)-and as with many other sequels, the first book was better. Still, Mr. Whiting provides strong detail on how Ichiro Suzuki became a great player: Almost every day of the year from the age of 7, Ichiro threw 50 pitches, hit 200 balls that his father tossed to him, fielded 100 balls hit to him by his father, and took 250 to 300 swings against a pitching machine.
Since close political contests, like military and Boston Red Sox campaigns, can be hellish, it's good also to read a book like Heaven (Tyndale, 2004), whose publicist went over the top when she described author Randy Alcorn as "the foremost expert on heaven in the country." I'm not sure any living person can be the foremost expert, because we all see through a glass darkly, but this book is still useful in putting to rest (too bad it won't be eternal) the clichéd notion that the blessed afterlife is defined by membership in the choir at an eternal church service. Mr. Alcorn points out the biblical teaching that God will place believers in a new earth full of satisfying and enlightening work of diverse kinds.
But there are travails on the way. Cancer: A Medical and Spiritual Guide for Patients and Their Families (Baker, 2004), by William Fintel and Gerald McDermott, readably goes through both the physical and religious trauma that this most feared of diseases brings.